Cook smart: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe cheats

A quick flan, an one-pot pasta and a fish pie foraged from the freezer, all full of smart tricks to simplify your cooking experience

All-in-one pasta: Yotam Ottolenghi’s orecchiette cooked in chickpea and tomato sauce.
 All-in-one pasta: Yotam Ottolenghi’s orecchiette cooked in chickpea and tomato sauce. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian

Iused to cheat much less in the kitchen. As a young cook, full of ideas – and of myself – things had to be done ‘properly’, even at home: tins were a no-no and the freezer a no-go; fancy appliances were a last resort. Only pure, raw ingredients were acceptable, and every bit of prep had to be done by hand. How tedious. These days, I am far more forgiving. As long as the process is enjoyable and the food sustaining, I’m happy with any trick, any cheat, anything to put a delicious meal on the table.

Orecchiette cooked in chickpea and tomato sauce (pictured above)

Pasta is a sacred thing and this method of cooking it in the sauce is certainly not common. My colleague Gitai Fisher, who might as well be Italian, went so far as to say that it’s not just cheating, it’s blasphemy. For the sauce, I’ve added North African touches to Italian puttanesca. Gitai was of the opinion that this, too, was cheating. There’s no pleasing some people.

Prep 20 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4

50ml olive oil, plus 2 tbsp extra to serve
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and patted dry 
2 tsp hot smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
¾ tbsp tomato paste
Salt and black pepper
40g parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 tsp lemon zest
4 tbsp baby capers
80g good-quality green olives, pitted and roughly torn
250g cherry tomatoes
2 tsp caster sugar
½ tbsp caraway seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
250g dried orecchiette
500ml vegetable stock

Put the first six ingredients and two teaspoons of salt in a large saute pan for which you have a lid, then put it on a medium heat and fry gently for eight minutes, stirring often, until the chickpeas are slightly crisp. Transfer a third of the chickpeas to a small bowl, to use as a garnish.

In a second bowl, combine the parsley, lemon zest, capers and olives, then add two-thirds of this mix to the saute pan with the cherry tomatoes, sugar and caraway seeds, and cook for two minutes more, stirring often.

Add the pasta, stock and 200ml water, and bring up to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium, cover with a lid and leave to cook, undisturbed, for 12-14 minutes, until the pasta is al dente.

Stir in the remaining parsley mixture, drizzle with the remaining two tablespoons of oil, and garnish with the fried chickpeas and a good grind of pepper.

Seafood, spinach and celeriac bake

Freezer fish pie: Yotam Ottolenghi’s seafood, spinach and celeriac bake.
Pinterest
 Freezer fish pie: Yotam Ottolenghi’s seafood, spinach and celeriac bake. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian

This uses frozen seafood and spinach to save time and effort. The former varies from brand to brand: most contain a base of fish, squid and prawns, and some will also feature mussels and/or scallops. Any will do the job here. If the seafood mix is pre-cooked, there’s no need to heat it in the milk first; just add it to the base with the other ingredients.

Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr 40 min
Serves 4

1 celeriac, peeled and halved (600g net)
2½ tbsp olive oil
30g parmesan, finely grated
Salt and black pepper
750ml whole milk
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
600g frozen raw seafood mix, defrosted (ie, 1-2 packets)
75g unsalted butter
2 leeks, trimmed, cut in half lengthways, then into 1cm pieces
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
50g plain flour
100ml dry white wine
250g frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
15g each dill, parsley and tarragon leaves, all roughly chopped
15g chives, cut into 1cm lengths
2 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
1 tbsp lemon zest
¼ tsp paprika

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Cut one celeriac half into 2cm x 2cm cubes and put in a bowl; cut the other into 2mm-thick half-moons (use a mandoline) and toss in a bowl with the oil, parmesan, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper.

Pour the milk into a big saucepan for which you have a lid and bring to a gentle simmer on a medium heat. Add the nutmeg, the cubed celeriac and a teaspoon of salt, and cook for 10 minutes, until tender. If your seafood mix is raw, add it now and cook for three minutes. Put a sieve over a large jug, drain the fish and celeriac, then set both aside.

Wipe the pan clean and return to a medium heat. Add the butter and leeks, cover the pan, turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft but not coloured – about 10 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium, add the garlic and chilli, and cook for a minute. Stir in the flour until fully mixed in – about 30 seconds – then slowly add the wine and reserved milk, whisking as you go to avoid lumps, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until thickened. Stir in the spinach, herbs, capers, lemon zest, seafood, half a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper, and turn off the heat.

Tip the mix into a 30cm x 20cm oven dish and cover with the sliced celeriac, overlapping it to create a fish-scale effect. Sprinkle paprika on top, cover tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 25 minutes more, until the celeriac is cooked through and the bake is bubbling. Leave to rest for 10 minutes, then serve.

Tangerine and ancho chilli flan

Blender dessert: Yotam Ottolenghi’s tangerine and ancho chilli flan.
Pinterest
 Blender dessert: Yotam Ottolenghi’s tangerine and ancho chilli flan. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian

Flan is the Spanish-speaking world’s answer to creme caramel. Custard is a tricky thing to get right at the best of times: cornflour can make it too floury if it’s not cooked properly, while eggs curdle if the heat is too high. But you can cheat by putting all the custard ingredients in a blender and blitzing them for 30 seconds: even a trained patissier wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. You can use orange instead of tangerine, though the latter tastes rather special.

Prep 10 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
Setting 3 hr+
Serves 6

100g caster sugar
1 tbsp tangerine juice

For the custard
1 ancho chilli (you want 18g, so you may need only ¾ of a chilli), soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
270g condensed milk
100ml double cream
400ml whole milk
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or essence
1 tsp grated tangerine zest
1 generous pinch flaked sea salt

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas 2. Put a 20cm x 20cm nonstick square tin (or a similar sized ovenproof dish) in the oven to warm; make sure the tin isn’t spring-form, though, because you don’t want the caramel to escape.

For the caramel, put the sugar in a large pan on a medium heat and cook for about eight minutes: resist the urge to stir, and instead swirl the pan around until the sugar has melted. Continue swirling slowly until the sugar turns a dark amber, then quickly take the tin from the oven and pour in the caramel, tilting the tin as you go so it covers the base evenly. Leave the caramel to set while you make the custard.

Take the chilli from its soaking water and squeeze out any liquid. Discard the stalk, put the chilli, seeds included, and all the other custard ingredients in a blender and blitz on high speed for about 30 seconds, until well combined.

Tap the base of the caramel tin to check it has set (if it hasn’t, leave it a little longer), then pour in the custard through a mesh sieve, to catch any larger bits of chilli.

Gently lift the tin into a larger, high-sided baking dish and put in the oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the larger dish to come halfway up the sides of the tin, then bake for 40-50 minutes, until the surface is set and golden-brown, but the flan still has a good wobble to it (it will set more in the fridge). Lift the flan out of its water bath, leave to cool slightly, then refrigerate for at least three hours.

Take the flan out of the fridge half an hour before you want to eat it. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the flan to release it, and place a lipped plate larger than the tin on top of the flan tin. Holding both the plate and the tin together, quickly flip the whole thing over and gently lift off the tin: the flan should release itself on to the plate. Drizzle the tangerine juice over the top and serve at once.

  • Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay
Topics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *